football

What’s in a Draw: Who Can Win the Europa League?

February 15, 2017

- Grant Whittington

There is no doubt that we have seen the perception of the Europa League change considerably since last year, after UEFA decided to reward winners with a Champions League place. This years’ tournament is therefore likely to be more keenly-contested than ever before, with 32 teams left in contention as we prepare to enter the knockout phase.

As ever with knockout football, however, the draw will have a huge impact on determining who will win the tournament overall. The draw for the second round has certainly thrown up some interesting ties, with the tournament favourites and Premier League pairing of Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur facing two high quality but understated European opponents who have fallen on harder times.

What’s in a Draw: Will United or Tottenham Struggle to Progress?

Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United have been drawn against French side AS Saint-Etienne (priced at 66/1), who boast the distinction of having Paul Pogba’s older brother Florentin playing for them. The French side, who reached a European Cup final at their zenith in 1976 and have lifted 10 league titles, have also enjoyed a renaissance in recent times having lifted the French League Cup in 2013. This was their first major honour in more than 30 years, while they are also fifth in Ligue One at present and retain an outside chance of claiming a UCL place.

Make no mistake; this is a deceptively challenging draw for the 4/1 Europa League favourites and one that will push them to their limits. It will certainly give the tournament favourites hope as they look to win the Europa League and earn a Champions League place, particularly with United fighting on four fronts and a League Cup final to look forward to at the end of February.

As for second favourites Spurs (who can be backed at 15/2), they face a stern test against the unheralded Belgian outfit KAA Gent. While they are currently sixth in the Belgian League, they won the domestic title as recently as 2015 and have claimed three major honours during the last 10 years. This hints at the spirit and pedigree that exists within the squad, while it also suggests that KAA Gent’s odds of 125/1 to win the tournament outright are a little long. Spurs will certainly need to be on their mettle if they are to succeed, while it is also important that they quickly get over the disappointment of exiting the Champions League at the group stages.

Are Celta Vigo the Dark Horses for the Europa League?

There is also an intriguing clash of two fancied clubs to look forward to in the second round, as 3/1, third favourites take on genuine dark horses and last seasons’ semi-finalists Villareal. This tie will certainly open up an opportunity elsewhere in the draw, while making it harder to select the eventual winner.

This will certainly be of interest to Celta Vigo, who despite their inconsistent league form (they are 10th in La Liga) and price of 33/1 have retained an excellent squad that can beat anyone on their day. They showcased this during a thrilling 4-3 win against Barcelona earlier this season, and while they must overcome 12/1 shots and seasoned Europa League operators Shaktar Donetsk the club is certainly well-placed to enjoy a prolonged cup run.

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